- Baseball beyond Our Borders: An International Pastime ed. by George Gmelch and Daniel A. Nathan
Reading Baseball beyond Our Borders brought to mind a George Will column that extolled baseball as a game, at least in theory, devoid of boundaries. Even balls "out of bounds" (that is, in foul territory) are in play if in the air, and "if you removed the stands, the field of play would extend forever through 360 degrees. The republic, the planet, the universe would be an extended baseball field. What a jolly idea" (George Will, Bunts [Touchstone, 1999], 38). This second edition from editors George Gmelch and Daniel A. Nathan nicely navigates our theoretically limitless yet practically bounded game. They retitle this edition from the original Baseball without Borders to acknowledge that, for all the similarities of the game wherever it is played, the local political and cultural contexts also matter. We learn much from these essays about both the universalities and the particularities of baseball.
The editors have gathered a cast of authors with an array of baseball experience and expertise. These include academics in disciplines such as anthropology, law, history, communications, and marketing; journalists and broadcasters; coaches and players. This edition adds two regions (Middle East and Africa) to the original four and adds at least one [End Page 254] new chapter to each region. The section on Latin America is largest, with eight countries represented (Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Brazil), followed in size by Asia (Japan has two essays; Korea, China, and Taiwan one each), Europe (Italy, Holland, Great Britain, Finland), the Pacific (Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand), the Middle East (Israel), and Africa (South Africa). This edition closes with a new chapter on the World Baseball Classic.
All of the chapters in Baseball beyond Our Borders are highly readable, fulfilling the editors' goal of a volume of general interest to American baseball fans. As with many edited collections, there is an unevenness across the entries. Some are anecdotal accounts primarily from personal experience, others employ a more formal analytic structure to substantiate a thesis, and most are somewhere in between. Most of the chapters recount the origins and development of the sport in their country and assess its prospects going forward. While there is no single overarching thesis to the collection, a number of themes emerge that allow for comparison across at least a few national experiences. One example is the different origins and influences around the globe, especially the role that Japan has played—not only in expected places like Korea and Taiwan but also in Brazil and South Africa. Another is the variety of baseball's institutional contexts, from Japan's highly competitive high school and professional baseball to the lack of interscholastic, intercollegiate, or professional baseball in Holland. Global politics represents another theme; Japan and China both found baseball useful while occupying countries conquered during war, baseball gained popularity across Europe at least partly as a result of World War I, and baseball's development in South Africa was hampered by international boycotts in protest of apartheid.
Perhaps the most recurrent theme is the role of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in a given country's baseball story. Some authors see a positive contribution. Both in Israel and Puerto Rico, for example, participation in the WBC seems to have boosted fan interest and the popularity of baseball at all levels. Others have a mixed or negative view. William W. Kelly notes the benefits gained by Japan's WBC success but also the imbalance in revenue distribution that has proved frustrating to the Japanese. Dan Gordon, in his chapter on Nicaragua, concludes that the WBC is essentially a project for Major League Baseball (MLB) control over the globalization of baseball in order to market its own product. While Alan Klein recounts the joy that greeted the Dominican Republic's undefeated championship run through the 2013 WBC, he also critiques the quasi-colonial view that the...